R.I. program provides care outside hospitals in effort to reduce ER use

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Emergency department

Photo by KOMUnews via Flickr

Using community health workers to work with frequent emergency room visitors is showing some success in reducing ER use.

The latest installment of “Cost of Diabetes,” a yearlong series by Rhiannon Meyers of the Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times, looks at what Rhode Island is doing to help prevent and manage diabetes.

A “Communities of Care” program pairs peer navigators, who are community health workers, with Medicaid patients who are seen in an emergency room four or more times in a year. The peer navigators “try to figure out why [the patients] keep going to the emergency room and help them access resources they need, from housing to transportation to doctors’ appointments. The peer navigators also continuously check in with patients to make sure they are seeing the doctor as needed and taking their prescriptions to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations.”

Officials at UnitedHealthcare, which contracts with Rhode Island Medicaid, say they’ve seen a 30 percent decrease in ER use and have possibly saved up to $600,000, according to preliminary results. And those results are prompting people to look at the program as a model, said Dr. Rene Rulin, medical director of Rhode Island Medicaid at UnitedHealthcare.

(Hat tip to Keldy Ortiz.)